PLI’s Last Stand (in the House Natural Resources Committee)

Today, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee “marked up” Rep. Rob Bishop’s terrible Public Lands Initiative (PLI)—the bill that seeks to roll back federal land protections, unleash a fossil fuel bonanza, and give away lands belonging to all Americans to the State of Utah.  As if that isn’t reckless enough, the bill fails to protect even half of the region’s deserving wilderness and it utterly fails to respect the efforts of five united Native American tribes to secure meaningful protection for the Bears Ears region—a landscape rich in cultural and natural wonders.

A “mark up” is a congressional procedure in which members are supposed to take the information they learn from witnesses at a hearing and apply that information by attempting to improve the bill through amendments. Several wilderness champions in the House did just that, offering amendments that would spruce up the PLI and at least bring it into accordance with the Wilderness Act, the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and several other federal laws that are undermined by Bishop’s bill. Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) all offered up commonsense amendments to repair just some of the bill’s significant environmental flaws, and argued admirably against the bill’s harmful provisions. It was apparent that they listened to the testimonies and worked to fix the bill accordingly.

If any of them are your Representatives, please call their offices and thank them for fighting the PLI today! The Capitol Switchboard is 202-224-3121. You can also watch the debate here.

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Rep. Bishop, for his part, ignored last week’s testimony by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management opposing the bill, ignored the testimony of Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a member of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (also opposing the bill), and continued to ignore the voices of other tribes, conservationists, and the more that 300 million Americans that own the public lands in question.

In fact, the only amendment Rep. Bishop offered to his bill was one for technical changes—fixing typos, grammatical errors and the like. It was the only amendment of the day that passed, and in Rep. Bishop’s hopelessly stacked committee, the bill eventually passed too, on a party line vote.

But don’t worry. From here on out, the Public Lands Initiative has no chance.

As pointed out by Reps. Grijalva, Tsongas, and Lowenthal, the bill simply will not advance in the Senate. It contains too many poison pills, too many egregious violations of bedrock environmental law, too little wilderness, and too little compromise for that body to approve. But let’s say, just for argument, that it did pass the Senate. What president is going to sign into law a bill that was opposed by multiple agencies within his or her own administration? Do you think President Obama, who has protected more public lands in his time in the Oval Office than any of his predecessors, would sign into law the PLI, which imperils millions of acres of deserving wilderness?

The simple answer is no. He wouldn’t do that. So the PLI is doomed, dead, failed. And it’s too bad, because we spent precious years working on it in earnest before it became obvious the bill would go nowhere good.

Now the focus must turn to what still is achievable: protecting the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument that has been requested by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. Throughout the PLI discussions, it has often been said by the Utah delegation that everyone agrees the Bears Ears region deserves protection. And we certainly do. Now that it’s clear the PLI cannot do the job, President Obama should step in. Click here to send a message asking him to Protect Bears Ears now!